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Lie in the Sound

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Reiko and Inspector Harada manage to uncover the truth after a few more days of interviews. The student at the high school hadn’t been robbed by a fellow student—a teacher with loan sharks after him overheard his student bragging about the gift from her parents and broke into her locker himself. A horrible thing, to be sure, and another win for the Kunitachi police station.

But all that’s waiting for her back at the station is another theft to investigate. Thankfully there have been no other attacks, but Kazamatsuri has stayed very tight-lipped about the investigation. He’s been working closely with the Noble Detective’s servants, and patrolmen on the force have told Reiko about the mysterious traveling tent that’s been seen around town the last few days.

Reiko tries to disappear into her new case, reading up on the initial reports and formulating a list of suspects and people to interview. She stays late reviewing footage from security cameras that first night and loses track of time. By the time she’s grabbed her bag, phone in hand to text Kageyama and apologize for her tardiness, she discovers butler Yamamoto waiting for her in the Kunitachi station’s main hall.

He bows to her. “Good evening, Hosho-sama.”

She nods her head. “I was just heading home.”

“Sato would be happy to drive you.”

She hopes her unease isn’t noticeable. “That’s quite alright, I have someone to pick me up.”

“My master actually wished to see you before you headed home. I apologize for appearing here at the last minute. You see, I’ve just come from Metropolitan Police Headquarters. Ah, but it’s a marvelous building with such a history. If I recall correctly, the architect was…”

“Yamamoto, if you will kindly come to the point.”

“Ah, my apologies,” the butler says. “Gozen-sama has solved the case admirably.”

“Oh, did he really?” she asks, raising an eyebrow. Clearly the man who really helped to solve the case is the one standing humbly before her.

“At this time, I cannot share the details. Your superiors at Headquarters will be holding a press conference come morning jointly with Kazamatsuri-sama.”

At least Kunitachi, the case’s proper jurisdiction, would be acknowledged to some extent. She wondered if Noble Detective found a way to ensure that Kunitachi’s hard-working squad and staff would receive some credit for the case’s swift resolution.

“He really needs to see me tonight?”

Yamamoto again looks apologetic. “With the case solved, Gozen-sama has accepted an invitation to a party this weekend at the home of a dear friend in Niigata. He did not want to leave Kunitachi without saying goodbye.”

She bites her lip, wondering if Yamamoto knows what his master really wants from their farewell meeting.

“Where is he now?”

“Oh, just outside, Hosho-sama. After you’ve said your goodbyes, Sato will drive you home.”

Now that gets her attention. She makes her way through the double doors of the police station. That massive tent takes up half of the parking lot, its flag flapping in the evening breeze. Doesn’t this man have a mansion like any other normal wealthy person?

Sato and the sedan are parked nearby, the driver reading through a newspaper as though it isn’t so strange to have set up a large tent in the parking lot of a police station. Yamamoto holds the tent flap for her, and she enters, finding the Noble Detective sitting on one of the loveseats inside. Tanaka is already pouring out tea for two.

She stands in the entryway, taking in the tent’s ostentatious interior. How did they manage to move this monstrosity all over town with such speed?

Tanaka bows to her, and this gets her master’s attention. He rises to his feet, smiling at her.

“Reiko-chan,” he says in his soothing, friendly voice. “I’m glad Yamamoto managed to find you. I was worried you’d already gone home for the night.”

“If that had been the case, would this tent be in my backyard right now?”

He grins at her warmly. “I don’t trespass on private property.”

Tanaka inclines her head. “Can I offer any further refreshments?”

“No, thank you very much. Please have Yamamoto call the Hosho family butler to let him know that Sato will be dropping her off later,” the Noble Detective tells her. “Dismissed.”

Tanaka says nothing, and her face betrays nothing either as she disappears from the tent. She’s now outside with Yamamoto and Sato, but Reiko is still unamused with the chosen venue.

“This is my workplace,” she tells him, trying not to think too much about how Kageyama will interpret Yamamoto’s call. “Not the most secluded place for a private chat.”

He reaches into the pocket of his long red coat and pulls out what looks like a remote control. He presses a button on it, but it doesn’t make a sound.

“It’s private now,” he explains, returning the controller to his pocket. “Sound-canceling device. State of the art. Nobody outside will hear us…I mean to say, nobody will hear our private chat.”

She wants to roll her eyes. He’s come right to where she works to bid her farewell, and after their night at Joy Tree, Reiko highly doubts that it will be a simple farewell. Not that the idea doesn’t excite her. He’s watching her so intensely, as though any moment he might make his move.

Reiko isn’t quite ready yet for any moves of that nature, and so she has a seat and sips her tea, settling her work bag beside the loveseat. He sits down beside her, forcing himself into her space by leaning back, crossing his long legs and resting his arm on the back of the sofa on her side.

“Yamamoto says you’ve solved the case already. Shall I congratulate you?”

He watches her, fingers tapping against the sofa fabric. “The four women all had something in common that your colleague Kazamatsuri failed to note. All four were once members of an online community about makeup. Our assailant posed as a female supplier, offering a rare, one of a kind lipstick that’s been taken off the market.”

“And so he lured them out for a trade and hurt them?”

The Noble Detective nods, bitterness in his tone. “He preyed on the most insecure ones, promising them that they’d look beautiful if only they had this rare lipstick.” He shakes his head. “A woman is beautiful with or without makeup and ought to be cherished, but the world is full of people who disagree with such a sentiment. Anyhow, all will be revealed at tomorrow’s press conference.”

Reiko is astonished when she remembers. “When we first met,” she says, fingers moving to her mouth unconsciously, “you complimented me on my lipstick. Did you know all along that…”

“Ssh,” he says, bringing his finger to his own lips. “None of that matters now, Reiko-chan.”

She has to admit she’s a bit impressed. He’s quick, attentive. Perhaps he only pretends to pawn off his cases on his servants to thoroughly prove the solutions he’s already deduced. Reiko thinks that Kageyama and the Noble Detective squaring off to solve a mystery might be an interesting meeting of the minds.

But that is not to be.

“You’re off to Niigata then. Is there a mystery waiting for you out there?”

He grins. “Trouble seems to follow me wherever I go.”

“Will you be reporting to Papa?” she asks. “Will you be telling him that you’ve cracked the case of the Kunitachi Lipstick Stabber?”

He tilts his head, looking at her with amusement. He’ll never tell. And neither will Papa.

“Ah, Niigata. It’s been a while,” he says, ignoring her question. “I will miss you, but I’m not the sort that sticks in one place for very long. Forgive my abrupt departure, but I receive so many friendly invitations.”

She smiles in reply. “I imagine so.”

“But I must admit that I’ve spent the last few nights consumed with the thought of you. I couldn’t bear to leave without seeing you again. Bravest Reiko-chan, Kunitachi’s heroine.”

“Or more like you couldn’t bear to leave without adding me to your collection. Your reputation is not a mystery.”

“Collection?” he scoffs, eyes growing dark. His voice is lower now, enough to make her glad she’s sitting down. “What a vulgar term.”

“Well, then what term best matches your intentions tonight, Noble Detective?”

Reiko sets down her tea cup because she knows that a man like the Noble Detective simply goes for what he wants. He scoots closer, moving so that his arm is around her shoulders. With his free hand, he removes her Hosho Reiko, star detective disguise. Her glasses are set aside, the elastic keeping the hair out of her face.

He teases his finger along her lips, watching her reactions closely.

“Collection implies that I view women as mere objects for my pleasure,” he whispers, sending a thrilling shiver down her spine. “No, I’m interested only in mutual satisfaction. An adventure, if you will.”

She closes her eyes, basks in the attention after so many months without. His every touch is deliberate, calculated. Designed to make her want him all the more. Certainly he’s had many opportunities to practice, but she decides not to hold it against him. What will it hurt to feel pleasure again? To be touched and held close again?

Before he can kiss her, she clears her throat.

“You’re sure that your little…gadget cancels out all the sound in here?”

Reiko has to admit that it’s been very quiet. Despite knowing that the station is only a few dozen yards from where she’s sitting, she hasn’t heard one siren. Not even engine noise from a patrol car returning, idling in the parking lot. But does the same concept apply to those sitting outside?

“I would never betray a woman’s confidence.”

She supposes that’s the only answer she’s likely to receive, so she gives in, trying to ignore the foreign feeling of hands that aren’t Kageyama’s brushing against her skin. He cups the back of her head, kissing her with the same lack of reserve he’d shown that night at Joy Tree.

They’re sitting side by side on the loveseat, and it’s not a very easy position. So it doesn’t surprise her when he pushes her onto her back, letting him lie in between her legs. They kiss for a long while, her arms slipping under his fancy jacket to touch his back, to feel his warm body through the thin cotton of his shirt.

She can feel the hard length of him whenever their bodies come into contact, and he seems unashamed of his interest in her, smiling against her mouth when she moans at the contact. He eventually leaves her mouth behind, moving so that he’s up, kneeling between her spread legs.

She keeps her eyes closed, not sure she can bear to watch him. To see in his eyes how badly he wants her even though he barely knows her. He undoes the button on her blazer, opens it wide and then moves his fingers to her blouse, undoing the buttons from the bottom up.

He’s just about to reach the top when she moves her hands to stop him.

“No?” he asks, not pressuring her in any way.

“I just…” She still can’t bear to open her eyes, and she squeezes his wrists. “You know what happened to me and…”

“Ah,” he whispers. “Would you rather I didn’t look?”

“You can. You can, but if you don’t like…”

“Reiko-chan.”

She opens one eye, sees the gentle smile on his face.

“You’re beautiful.”

She moves her hands, and he undoes the last button, slowly pushing her blouse open. He grins at the sight of her lacy white bra. He probably thinks she wore it just for him, but here’s one thing the Noble Detective hasn’t discovered — Reiko simply likes nice underwear. If he has any reaction to the twin scars above her breast, she can’t see it in his face.

Her bra clasps in the front, and he seems to like that too, making swift work of it, exposing her. She lies back as comfortably as she can on the loveseat, praying that his noise-canceling gadget truly works because she lets out the most pathetic moan when his tongue flicks against her nipple.

It’s chilly in the tent despite the heat happening between them on the loveseat, and her exposed skin is soon covered in goosebumps. She pants, trying not to lose herself too much in the simple feeling of his mouth on her breast, his fingers kneading and stroking the other.

The Noble Detective claimed that he was only interested in mutual satisfaction, but so far it seems as though Reiko’s is more important to him. When he’s finally seemed to have enough fun kissing her there, sucking her nipples into his mouth until she gasps at the energetic tugs, he moves lower, kissing his way down her abdomen until he finds her belt.

She hums in approval as he unbuckles it, slides it through the loops and tosses it somewhere else. His fingers tease her zipper down, and with a lift of her hips, she helps him to tug them off to join her belt on the floor. She’s a little embarrassed by how damp her panties are, but it’s been a long and lonely four months.

Most gentlemen wouldn’t remark on it, but she feels a firm press of his mouth to the inside of her thigh, the soft and teasing rumble of his voice. “Let me taste you.”

He’s moving her again, his touch gentle but insistent. He has her sit up, her blazer and shirt askew and wrinkled as he kneels on the floor before her. He tugs her panties down, and she whimpers as he kisses slowly, so painfully slowly up and up and up from her knees to the sensitive skin of her inner thighs.

His mouth and tongue against her sex are a revelation, and she cries out, four months of hurt and anger and frustration pushed aside at least for a moment. He rubs with his fingers, teasing and tempting, before moving his mouth into their place. She kind of hates the sound of it. So improper, so crude. Proper posture is an afterthought, and he angles her so she’s lying back flat, exposed to him with her legs resting on his back. He’s still got on his fancy, foolish coat, the material itching against her ankles, her calves as he licks so perfectly at her clit.

She comes before she wants to, body trembling. He doesn’t seem to mind if she squirms a little, moves her hips, pushes her sensitive flesh more firmly against his unrelenting mouth. He lets her rest for a moment, pressing soft kisses against her stomach, letting her shudders recede. But it doesn’t last long, and he goes back, hoping to prolong her experience, to send another wave of it crashing over her.

Reiko’s lost in it, lost in how badly she needs this. It’s so good. It’s so good, she doesn’t want it to end.

Soon she’s covered in sweat, a mess, barely able to keep her legs apart any longer. His mouth and his tongue haven’t tired yet, and he’s got two fingers inside her, stroking in time with the flick of his tongue. She’s somewhere between coming a third time and a fourth when she can’t control herself any longer.

She forgets where she is. She forgets who she’s with. It’s too much, it’s suddenly way too much.

She thought it would be easy. She thought it would be nothing more than scratching an itch. Taking pleasure where she could after such an unfair absence. But at this point, it’s not difficult to replace the mouth between her legs with another, at least in her own frazzled, fractured mind. It’s not difficult to imagine that it’s not the Noble Detective.

It’s “Kageyama!” she cries when she gives in, “Kageyama…Kageyama…”

To his credit, her current companion withdraws only when she’s finally coming back to Earth, her jaw trembling and her face streaked with tears and sweat. She’s ruined this, hasn’t she? She’s ruined this completely.

She can’t move, sprawled pathetically on his loveseat, wet and uncomfortable and her heart banging around in her chest. The last time she felt this panicked, this desperate, this alive it was when she was fighting for her life.

She’s back there on that dark night, chin hitting the pavement and rattling the teeth in her jaw. She didn’t cry that night and she didn’t cry when they rode in the ambulance together. She didn’t cry when Papa said Kageyama had given him a formal letter of resignation and she didn’t cry when Kageyama told her they ought to “remember themselves.”

But she’s crying now, she’s hysterical now when she ought to be basking in the afterglow of the most amazing…

“Bravest Reiko-chan.”

She looks down, sees the Noble Detective’s gentle smile. Before she can apologize, he presses a soft kiss to her knee.

“Take a break from your bravery, if only for tonight. Tell me everything. I’ll listen.”

Reiko will never admit it out loud, but she had a rather sheltered childhood. She grew up learning about happy ever afters, about finding the right person and getting married so the Hosho Group’s legacy will continue.

She barely knew anything about sex until halfway through high school when she was almost laughed out of the girls’ locker room for thinking a “blow job” was something to do with a visit to the hair salon. With her Papa’s protectiveness, she doesn’t have a boyfriend until college, but only for a short time because she wants to wait until it feels right. She decides to give in when it’s her second college boyfriend, but that doesn’t last either once he finds out how rich she is and resents her for it. She breaks it off with the guy she dates during the police academy because he’s too selfish.

So it’s only with Kageyama that she finally receives a thorough education. If he’s lacking in patience with her when it comes to solving crimes, it doesn’t transfer to her bedroom. She wonders if it’s because he’s in service that he spends an extraordinary amount of time concentrating on putting her pleasure before his.

Reiko doesn’t know what she’d do without him by her side. Maybe it’s foolish to want that childhood happy ever after with a servant. Maybe it’s naive. Maybe it’s even unfair to Kageyama.

But that’s all for her to worry about another day.

For some reason, he’s not remotely offended, and he puts her back together as best he can. He cleans her up, helps her dress, and moves with her across the tent to a different sofa, one that doesn’t smell like sex.

He sits with his arm around her, and she leans her head against his shoulder, embarrassed to take even more of his freely-offered comfort. “You won’t sell your stock, will you?”

He chuckles at that, rubbing her arm gently. “Not a chance.”

Reiko knows it’s late and that his servants are likely dozing in the car waiting for their master to complete his latest conquest, but she starts from the beginning because she has to. She tells him about Kageyama’s arrival in her life. His infuriating nature, his insults and his teasing. The first cases they managed to crack together, the two of them alone in the sitting room after dinner. How normal that became, how expected it was for them to meet that way, spend time together that way, learn more about one another that way.

She tells the Noble Detective how long it took before she even made a move. She tells him how happily it was received. Her doubts and worries had been unfounded. Kageyama, annoying as he could sometimes be, was her perfect match. He indulged her whims, prodded her along the right path, helped her with her work. He loved her with his heart and with his eyes and once Reiko granted him permission, he loved her with everything else he had, snarky comments notwithstanding.

And then one night changed everything. She could have been paying better attention to her surroundings. Kageyama thought he might have prevented it entirely if he hadn’t been late, his attention that evening given over to love rather than duty.

But Ichimatsu Yuto was a variable they couldn’t have controlled. If he hadn’t followed Reiko that night, intent on harming her, he might have done it another time. The only one at fault that night had been Ichimatsu Yuto. Kageyama, being her stubborn Kageyama, had felt differently.

“When I needed him more than I ever have, he stepped back,” she tells the Noble Detective. “I can’t comprehend it.”

His hand strokes her arm tenderly. “I can’t say that I fully understand. I won’t lie to you, Reiko-chan. Finding love with a servant, I just can’t wrap my head around it. This is a person in your employ, a person whose sole responsibility is to serve you.”

“It’s never been quite as simple as that…”

“You say this, but you say this from the perspective of the employer, not the employee. I have Yamamoto, Sato, Tanaka…among others.” His voice trails off briefly before he clears his throat. “There is an understanding between us. I see that they are well-paid and treated respectfully. In exchange, they are my tools to wield as I see fit.”

“A servant is a human being,” Reiko interrupts, but he keeps going.

“Well, yes of course they are. But it doesn’t erase the fundamental nature of our contract, our obligations to one another. You can have a servant, or you can have a lover. But you cannot expect that person to be both. From what you’ve said, it appears this Kageyama fellow reached his breaking point, seeing you hurt and feeling responsible.”

“But it wasn’t his fault!”

“No, it wasn’t. But he had to make a choice. Probably the hardest he’s ever had to make. Won’t you at least consider it from his side?”

She’s quiet for a while, mulling over the truth of his words. Things might have been easier for Kageyama when he was only expected to perform the duties he was hired for. She’s hardly ever stopped to think about what burdens she was adding on, expecting him to come to her bed but still rise early to make her breakfast. She’s hardly ever stopped to think because he did it all without ever complaining. Like most things, Kageyama’s always made it look so easy.

But now she realizes that he was working harder than she can imagine, juggling the task of making her happy as both his employer and the person he loves. Reiko’s spent the last few months resenting his decision, but only because she’s grown accustomed to him taking on twice as much responsibility for her sake. For her happiness.

“Will you always love me, Kageyama?”

“My lady, are you blind? Look closer. Pay attention. And you’ll have your answer.”

She shuts her eyes, trying not to start crying all over again. And failing miserably in the attempt.

The Noble Detective already has a handkerchief out, gently patting it against her face. “Don’t be too angry with yourself, Reiko-chan. You’ve been through quite an ordeal.”

“I’ve been so selfish.”

“The heiress to the Hosho Group deserves nothing but the very best. I’m sure this Kageyama would agree. Any man lucky enough to meet you would agree.”

She looks up, sees that wicked look in his eye has returned. It makes her laugh despite her tears.

“I’m sorry to cut our adventure so short.”

He presses his lips to her temple, kissing softly. “I’d be happy to find time to embark on a new one with you after my trip to Niigata is complete. But I have a feeling you won’t be available.”

Her smile is bittersweet.

He gets to his feet first, gallantly holding out his hand. She doesn’t mind it too much when he steals a few more kisses before escorting her to the exit of the tent and bidding her farewell.

The stone she kicked smacks into the limousine perfectly and she panics, hurrying over as the driver emerges to inspect the damage.

“I’m terribly sorry! How much to repair the damages?”

The man in the tuxedo answers her question immediately. “About 700 to 800 thousand yen.” He steps closer. “It is but merely a scratch.”

But then he bows to her, an almost amused look in his eyes when he straightens up again.

“My lady.”

“Goodness!” she complains. “Don’t frighten me! I thought this car belonged to someone else.”

“My apologies.”

Relieved, she takes a fresh look at him. He’s not much older than her, wearing glasses that lend him an almost aloof, intellectual air. “Are you Karasawa’s successor?”

“Yes, the name is Kageyama,” he says, pulling out a pocket watch. “I thought it was about time you would be heading home, so I have come to pick you up.”

She smiles. “Hmm…sharp intuition, Kageyama. You’d make a great detective.”

“Far from it,” he replies, looking almost embarrassed. “I am only a butler. I cannot even compare myself with an intelligent noblewoman such as yourself, my lady. Detective? Hardly.”

Reiko beams with his compliment. She’ll miss Karasawa, but she has a feeling that things will work out well with his successor.

Sato puts up the divider to give her privacy when she makes a phone call on the drive home. It’s nearly 2:00 in the morning, which makes it the perfect time to call her father. He’s in Lagos, Nigeria on business, and it’s only 6:00 PM.

She doesn’t want her decision to take him by surprise.

Kageyama is still awake and waiting for her when she arrives, opening the door and locking it behind her. Surely he knows the Noble Detective’s reputation as well as anyone, but if he’s feeling jealous, she can’t see it in his eyes. Maybe he’s even misguidedly happy for her to some extent.

She walks up the stairs, wanting to sleep before she says anything, but when she hears his steady footfalls on the steps behind her, she feels like she shouldn’t delay it. She’s already made her mind up, and Papa has reluctantly agreed.

Reiko stops at the top of the staircase, turning to look down at Kageyama. He’s dressed in his usual livery, the tuxedo and bowtie, not a hair out of place. Whatever turmoil might be brewing under the surface remains hidden from her for now.

She does and doesn’t want to do this. Because if she’s miscalculated, she has no idea what she’ll do.

She can only trust that he was being truthful the day she asked him if he’d love her forever.

“Kageyama, I need to speak to you.”

He nods. “Of course, my lady.”

Instead of going to her room, she goes to his study at the end of the hall. This was Karasawa’s room before, but Kageyama has made it his own. The books are his, the leather-bound notebook that contains his daily thoughts and comments on household issues sits on the desk.

Reiko moves around the desk to sit in his chair, and he remains standing just on the other side, watching her with curious eyes.

“I want to thank you, Kageyama, for your years of loyalty and service.”

He doesn’t say anything, watching her carefully.

“I’ve never complimented you enough for the work you do. It’s likely because everything you do is so seamless and perfect that I don’t even realize the effort behind it. Thank you so much for everything.”

“My lady…”

“Which is why it pains me so much to have to do this.” She looks up at him, gripping the arms of the chair tightly for courage. “Kageyama, you’re fired.”

She doesn’t expect him to laugh, but he does. After all, this is something he’s heard from her hundreds of times.

“I’m serious.”

He steps forward, clumsily bumping into the desk. “May I ask what I’ve done to displease you, my lady? I humbly apologize if my work has been below standards of late, but I beg you, allow me to make up for it. Serving the Hosho family, serving you, it is not a task I take lightly. It has long been my privilege and my honor to do so and…”

She holds up a hand, silencing him.

“Kageyama,” she says, seeing the panic in his face. It nearly drives her to tears, but she doesn’t think she has any more to let out. At least not tonight. “Your work has always exceeded standards, and you very well know it. I am not firing you because I am unhappy with the service you have provided.”

He waits for her response, his arms held so stiffly at his sides.

“I’m firing you because I’m in love with you. I’m firing you because I never considered what that really means. I can’t be in love with the person who also takes orders from me. It’s not fair to you. After what happened to me, after you made your…decision, I was upset with you. I was furious with you. I needed you.” Her lips are trembling. “Kageyama, I needed you.”

“My lady…”

“I didn’t need you as my butler. I needed you as the person I love, as my partner. But you tried to resign and I forced Papa to make you stay. I didn’t consider your feelings. I only considered mine and what I needed. I’d grown comfortable having you as both butler and partner that I refused to let you become neither. And I’m very, very sorry.”

He comes around the desk, crouching down beside her. He doesn’t make a move to touch her. Unlike the Noble Detective, Kageyama always waits.

She shakes her head, not looking down at him. “Papa will write you a very good letter of recommendation. You will find employment easily if you wish to remain in service. I just cannot allow you to remain in service to me.”

“I made a promise,” Kageyama whispers. “I made a promise to look after you and protect you for the rest of my days.”

“Then do so only if it is something you truly wish to do. Not because it is what pays your salary.” She gets to her feet, doing her best to stay firm in her awful decision. “The Noble Detective is sending his butler Yamamoto to the house tomorrow to see that I am looked after temporarily until Papa can arrange for your permanent replacement. Please take all the time you need to gather your things. All of the family’s properties are available for you to use.”

She’s at the door to his study when he calls out to her again, his voice desperate and strained. “My lady!”

She doesn’t look back.

“Since your employment here has been terminated, you don’t need to call me that ever again.”

She’s half-asleep, tracing lazy circles on his chest with her fingertips. “You were a kid once, weren’t you, Kageyama?”

She likes the rumble of his teasing laughter. “Of course I was.”

She imagines a little boy in a tuxedo and bow tie, and her heart clenches. “Did you want to be a butler when you grew up?”

“Hmm,” he ponders, allowing her to keep touching and tickling him as she pleases. “No.”

“No?”

“I was going to be a professional baseball player. Or a celebrity chef. Or…well…”

She presses a kiss just over his heart, her hair spilling out across his warm skin. “Well?”

“You may not believe this, my lady, but I always aspired to be a legendary detective.”

“A shocking admission! I’d have never guessed!”

He strokes her hair, laughing again. “I’m full of surprises.”

Reiko sips her wine, pausing in her recollection of the day’s events. Kazamatsuri had been nothing but a nuisance, asking the dumbest questions while they interviewed witnesses. She had barely been able to ask what she wanted before Kazamatsuri decided they had everything they needed.

“I’m convinced it was the ex-wife,” she says, having a bite of asparagus. “Her alibi was weakest.”

She muses over every detail she can recall, having a sinking suspicion that she’s right.

“Well, what do you think? Based on what I’ve told you, do you have an opinion?”

He inclines his head, reaching for the wine bottle so he might pour her some more.

“My lady, it seems to me that you’ve missed a few key points. If you’ll forgive my rudeness.”

She looks up, eyes narrowing. “Is that so?”

Naito looks at her with his teasing smile. “You’ve forgotten about the U.A.T.”

“The what?” she snaps at him. Her new butler has the oddest fondness for pointless acronyms.

“The utagawashii atarashii tsuma. U.A.T.”

The suspicious new wife.

“And what makes you think the U.A.T. is to blame, Naito?”

He’s still smiling that dumb smile. “You’d have to be blind not to suspect her, my lady.”

She’s had quite enough backtalk from servants for one evening. And much as she doesn’t want to admit it, she realizes that she may have dismissed the U.A.T.’s testimony a little too easily.

“What time is my guest arriving?”

“Just in time for dessert, I suspect,” Naito replies.

It’s been a few months now since she’s seen the Noble Detective, and Reiko will be glad to see him again. Not necessarily for romance, but for a sympathetic ear. It’s been a tough adjustment for Reiko here in the house. An acronym-slinging butler and an empty bed.

She heads for the sitting room to ponder Naito’s hints about her case, waiting for him to return with her distinguished guest as well as the pudding she’s been looking forward to all day.

She hears the wheels of the dessert cart and the gentle rumbles of the tea cups as Naito pushes it into the room a while later. But when she looks up, the person pushing the cart isn’t Naito. He’s not in a long coat and the too-tight trousers of the guest she’s been anticipating. And he’s not in a tuxedo and bow tie.

Instead he’s in a far simpler gray suit with a dress shirt and blue tie. At least he still wears the same glasses.

She gets to her feet, confused as he closes the door, setting the brake on the dessert cart.

“You’re not Naito.”

“No.”

“And you’re not the Noble Detective.”

At this, he smiles. “I could never aspire to such greatness.”

She crosses the room in only a few steps, taking hold of him by the lapels of his suit jacket, giving him a firm shake. “You might have sent a message.”

“I wanted you to be the first to see them.”

She lets him go, heart racing, as he digs into his pocket for the business card holder. He takes one out, holding it for her to take.

It bears his name, his full name, and beneath it…

“Legendary Detective,” she reads, annoyed by his usual arrogance.

He’s been consulting with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police for the last few months, but it seems that it was only last week that he’s managed to finally set up an office for himself a few blocks away from the Kunitachi police station. Papa had told her that he refused the money offered, that he wanted to save until he had enough to rent an office of his own without help.

He’s done a fine job keeping his distance, taking cases separate from her own. He’s even clashed with the Noble Detective a few times now, but she’s only heard whispers about those epic showdowns.

This is the first time that he’s come to the house since that night, though he’s never been far. He and Naito have become fast friends, and unfortunately, some of his rudeness has rubbed off on Reiko’s new butler.

She hasn’t allowed herself to wallow in despair these last few months. Give him time, the Noble Detective counseled her. And so she has, holding onto hope.

“Would you like me to serve dessert? Naito-kun has gone to considerable trouble.”

She shakes her head. “No.”

He turns, lifting the lid covering the chilled pudding. “It looks rather delicious.”

“Then have Naito pack some for you to take home with you.”

“He’s off for a drive,” he says shyly. “I hope you don’t mind me giving orders to your staff.”

She bites her lip, trying not to shake. She hugs herself, wondering if this really means what she thinks it does.

“Congratulations,” she says, tapping his business card nervously against her arm. “I hope you will be very successful, Legendary Detective Kageyama.”

He leaves the dessert cart behind, turning to rest his hands on her shoulders, not waiting for her to grant permission. “I can’t leave it all to the detectives of the Kunitachi police. Some of them are often a bit…slow to uncover the truth of things.”

She looks up at him with a scowl, seeing that familiar smile emerge. Reiko uncrosses her arms, wrapping them around him instead, squeezing him tight. She shuts her eyes, wanting to cry in relief but not wanting to give him the satisfaction of her tears. He’s just insulted her and the entire detective squad, after all.

“I missed you,” she mumbles, feeling his arms coming around her. Protective and gentle like it used to be. But with something more. It’s an embrace without complications, without hesitation.

“Kiss me,” he says, demanding something from her for what might be the very first time.

He’ll have to wait.

Instead she takes him by the hand and leads him from the room. Naito really has gone, and their footsteps are heavy as they hurry up the stairs to her bedroom.

“Now I’ll kiss you,” she says as soon as the door is closed. “It will be hard to stop after all you’ve put me through.”

She takes his glasses away, sets them down on her dresser and returns to him, leaning up on her tiptoes so their lips can meet. It’s been months and months, but it’s perfect and familiar and irreplaceable.

His hands are everywhere now that he doesn’t have to concern himself with his dual role in her life. Instead he can give all of himself to loving her instead of only a fraction. When things grow more heated, she pushes him back. But only so she can turn her back to him, letting him brush her hair aside so he can tug on the zipper of her dress.

Old habits die hard and when she steps out of it, he lifts it gently to set it over the chair. When she turns back, she sees the barely concealed hurt in his eyes. He’s seeing the scars on her chest for the first time. She reaches out, taking his hand in hers. She brings it there, lets him touch the marred skin.

She doesn’t let him say sorry, just stands and lets him take it in. She’s still the same Reiko with only those two minor differences. She takes his hand, pushes it lower so instead he can cup her breast through the thin satin of her bra. There’s no point in dwelling any further on the result of an incident neither of them could have prevented. He strokes her lazily, twisting her nipple through the fabric as his mouth gets lost along her neck, her shoulder.

It feels so good and so right to have him back here in her room. She hopes that this will be the first of many nights, learning each other all over again.

She helps him out of his suit jacket and tie, moving to his buttons. He’s watching her with such intense focus, as though he himself is irritated that he waited so long to come back to her.

With every article of clothing that falls to Reiko’s floor, he kisses her, hard and needy, and she wonders if they’ll ever make it to the bed. She wants him so badly she’d let him take her anywhere he wanted. But finally she’s bared to him completely, and the same is true for him.

She panics briefly when she realizes the box of condoms in her bedside table has expired. But he’s got one in his wallet, reminding her without words that he came to her home tonight expressly to have her again after way too long. They lay side by side, her leg up and over him so he can rest his hand between her thighs, his tongue slipping into her mouth in time with his fingers inside her.

She’s so ready, has been ready since they started to kiss quite frankly, but he’s taking his time. He kisses her as she bucks against his fingers, driving them deeper inside her. It’s good, it’s so good. She isn’t sure how she made it this long without the comfort and warmth of him lying at her side, working hard to please her. He slows a little, slipping his fingers from inside her to focus instead on the too-sensitive nub of her clit. He brings her to the edge and chuckles in contentment when she can’t bear any more, begging him in very vulgar and un-ladylike terms to finish what he’s started.

He waits for her to come anyhow, letting the waves subside before he’s rolling the condom on, stroking her face and whispering her name.

“Reiko,” he calls her, remembering that it’s the only address she’ll allow now. “Reiko, I’ve missed you.”

“Will you always love me, Kageyama?”

He kisses her lips, and she sees tears in his eyes.

“Are you blind?” he grumbles.

Soon he’s moving within her, her hands clinging to the strong muscles of his back, his shoulders. His movements aren’t polite but aggressive, showing her a side of him he must have been holding back all those months ago. She loves it, having all of Kageyama all to herself.

She laughs when he rolls them, moves so that she can be on top of him. She gets up, staying balanced with one hand to his chest as she rides him, grinding down against every upward thrust of his cock inside her. He holds tight to her legs, squeezing as she revels in what she’s so dearly missed. This position has her own satisfaction in mind, and he starts to say her name, like a prayer. Like a command. Hearing Reiko fall so easily from his plump lips swollen from all their kisses, it’s not long before she’s coming again, clenching around him uncontrollably as he groans in response. She can’t take much more of this, and she shuts her eyes, trying not to topple over as he arches up and into her again and again until he can’t bear it any longer.

She stays there on top of him, chest heaving and hair wild, strands of it sticking uncomfortably to her mouth. Relief, happiness, satisfaction have her quivering from head to toe. She knows she made the right choice. A butler is nice to have, but love is far better.

They end up in her bathtub, her sitting between his legs and resting her back against his chest. This is an intimacy he never allowed before, not when he was still her employee to command, and she sighs in contentment, feeling his arms around her, his hands pressed so firmly and possessively against her abdomen.

Things have changed, and Reiko is not afraid.

“Naito thinks he’s solved my case for me,” she mumbles lazily.

“The U.A.T., yes?”

She narrows her eyes, poking at the hands around her belly with the tips of her nails, enough to make him yelp a bit. The words “you’re fired” are on the tip of her tongue, but of course they no longer apply.

While some things have changed, Reiko admits with a smile, others may still take a bit of time.

***

Reiko receives a handwritten letter the following day, the envelope sealed with the same crest from the flag she’s seen flying over a large, elaborate tent.

I’d wish you luck, but I doubt you’ll need it, he’s written with a flourish.

Bravest Reiko-chan. Best wishes on your grand adventure.